Front-line workers too often forgotten

Upheaval in office environment overshadows challenges for store, branch employees

Front-line workers too often forgotten

For all the talk of mental health challenges and stressed-out workers, too often the research I’ve seen (and we’ve covered) concerns office employees.

Yes, this particular group underwent a huge upheaval when we were suddenly sent home to work full time as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Yes, this trend continues today, with many corporate employees still working safely from their homes, indefinitely.

And while there has been a spotlight on front-line health care workers as the virus took hold of our health-care systems, the upheaval for other front-line workers has also been considerable, and truly deserves greater consideration: safety protocols changed drastically; hours of work were cut back or ramped up; layoffs were rampant in many industries; and now many front-line workers face the unenviable task of dealing with unmasked customers or hostile people reluctant to reveal their vaccine status.

That’s why a recent survey by Axonify provides welcome insights. While it does not include Canada (looking at the U.S., U.K. and Australia) the results are still relevant.

It's not always about pay

We’ve been hearing a lot, especially on social media, about the need for greater pay for front-line workers. Restaurants are having trouble finding workers? Pay them more, people cry. But is that always the answer?

Not necessarily: Nearly 50 per cent of frontline workers are preparing to leave their current jobs and burnout is the top reason (58 per cent), according to the Axonify survey of 2,500 frontline employees from a range of industries including retail, grocery, finance, banking, insurance and professional sales.

Other considerations include a a lack of appreciation from management or peers (53 per cent), and a lack of interest in daily work (52 per cent), with poor compensation (52 per cent) coming in fourth. 

As further proof of the plight of front-line workers, their level of satisfaction with employer support (67 per cent) is much lower than that of office workers (86 per cent), according to Axonify.

And fewer than two-thirds (64 per cent) of store or branch employees are happy with their everyday work compared to office workers (81 per cent). 

An earlier report even suggested that minimum wage increases can raise unemployment levels because businesses often respond by laying off workers, reducing work hours or hiring less (or not at all).

Providing much-needed support

There have been oodles of surveys about office employees and the hybrid model – where employees divide their time between the office and home to do their work – looking at issues such as productivity and corporate culture and leadership.

But not enough research is being done in looking at front-line workers and their experiences and need for support. Over the past 18 months, they have bravely faced the pandemic and undergone huge upheaval in their work lives. Here’s hoping employers are not taking advantage of that stoicism and are making sure to provide the supports needed to help them thrive, whether that’s through improved benefits, greater flexibility, better safety measures or higher compensation.

“Everyone is talking about the future of work, but too many of these conversations focus solely on the corporate employee experience and don’t consider the front line. The time has come to rethink the frontline work experience,” says Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify of Waterloo, Ont.

“Successful companies realize that frontline workers are the face of their brand. We need to emphasize the importance of this group’s experience to ensure they are supported and provided with equitable opportunities so they can advance their careers - and serve as brand ambassadors.”

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